Gena Rowlands

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Gena Rowlands
Gena Rowlands 1968.jpg
Rowlands in 1968
Virginia Cathryn Rowlands

(1930-06-19) June 19, 1930 (age 91)
Alma mater American Academy of Dramatic Arts
Years active1951–2014
(m. 1954;died 1989)

Robert Forrest
(m. 2012)
Parent(s) Edwin Myrwyn Rowlands
Lady Rowlands

Virginia Cathryn "Gena" Rowlands (born June 19, 1930) is an American retired actress, whose career in film, stage, and television has spanned over six decades. A four-time Emmy and two-time Golden Globe winner, she is known for her collaborations with her late actor-director husband John Cassavetes in ten films, including A Woman Under the Influence (1974) and Gloria (1980), which earned her nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actress. She also won the Silver Bear for Best Actress for Opening Night (1977). She is also known for her performances in Woody Allen's Another Woman (1988), and her son, Nick Cassavetes's film, The Notebook (2004). In 2021, The New Yorker said, “The most important and original movie actor of the past half century-plus is Gena Rowlands.” [1] In November 2015, Rowlands received an Honorary Academy Award in recognition of her unique screen performances. [2]


Early years

Rowlands was born on June 19, 1930, in Cambria, Wisconsin. [3] Her mother, Mary Allen (Neal), was a housewife who later worked as an actress under the stage name Lady Rowlands. [4] Her father, Edwin Myrwyn Rowlands, was a banker and state legislator. [5] He was a member of the Wisconsin Progressive Party, and was of Welsh descent. [6] She had a brother, David Rowlands.

Her family moved to Washington, D.C., in 1939, when Edwin was appointed to a position in the United States Department of Agriculture; moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1942, when he was appointed as branch manager of the Office of Price Administration; [7] and later moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota. From 1947–50, she attended the University of Wisconsin, [8] where she was a popular student already renowned for her beauty. [9] While in college, she was a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma. [10] She left for New York City to study drama at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.


Early roles (1952–1967)

Publicity photo, 1955 Gena Rowlands - 1955.jpg
Publicity photo, 1955

In the early 1950s, Rowlands performed with repertory theatre companies and at the Provincetown Playhouse. She made her Broadway debut in The Seven Year Itch and toured in a national production of the play. In 1956, she starred in the Broadway play Middle of the Night opposite Edward G. Robinson.

Rowlands costarred with Paul Stewart in the 26-episode syndicated TV series Top Secret (1954–55). She guest-starred on such anthology television series as Robert Montgomery Presents , Armstrong Circle Theatre , Studio One , Appointment with Adventure , The United States Steel Hour and Goodyear Television Playhouse , all in 1955. In 1959, Rowlands appeared in the western series Laramie , alongside her husband John Cassavetes in the detective series Johnny Staccato , and in the western series Riverboat , starring Darren McGavin. In 1961, she appeared in the adventure series The Islanders , set in the South Pacific, and in Target: The Corruptors! , starring Stephen McNally. She guest-starred in The Lloyd Bridges Show , the detective series 77 Sunset Strip , the westerns Bonanza and The Virginian , and Breaking Point , all in 1963. In 1964, she guest-starred in the medical drama Dr. Kildare and in two episodes of Burke's Law . She appeared in four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents , three of which were after the series had been renamed The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. In 1967, she was cast as socialite Adrienne Van Leyden in the prime-time ABC soap opera Peyton Place .

Rowlands made her film debut in The High Cost of Loving in 1958. In 1962, she starred in director David Miller's Lonely Are the Brave , with Kirk Douglas and Walter Matthau. She played the former lover of the Kirk Douglas character, now the wife of the Douglas character's best friend.

Cassavetes era (1963–1984)

Rowlands and Cassavetes made ten films together: A Child Is Waiting (1963), Faces (1968), Machine Gun McCain (1969), Minnie and Moskowitz (1971), A Woman Under the Influence (1974; nomination for Academy Award for Best Actress), Two-Minute Warning (1976), Opening Night (1977), Gloria (1980; nomination for Academy Award for Best Actress), Tempest (1982), and Love Streams (1984). [11]

According to Boston University film scholar Ray Carney, Rowlands sought to suppress an early version of Cassavetes's first film, Shadows , that Carney says he rediscovered after decades of searching. [12] Rowlands also became involved in the screenings of Husbands and Love Streams , according to Carney. The UCLA Film and Television Archive mounted a restoration of Husbands, as it was pruned down (without Cassavetes's consent, and in violation of his contract) by Columbia Pictures several months after its release, in an attempt to restore as much of the removed content as possible. At Rowlands's request, UCLA created an alternative print with almost ten minutes of content edited out, as Rowlands felt that these scenes were in poor taste. The alternative print is the only one that has been made available for rental. [13]

Late career (1985–present)

Rowlands at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival Gena Rowlands Cannes.jpg
Rowlands at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival

In 1985, Rowlands played the mother in the critically acclaimed made-for-TV movie An Early Frost . She won an Emmy for her portrayal of former First Lady of the United States Betty Ford in the 1987 made-for-TV movie The Betty Ford Story .

In 1988, Rowlands starred in Woody Allen's dramatic film Another Woman . She played Marion Post, a middle-aged professor who is prompted to a journey of self-discovery when she overhears the therapy sessions of another woman (Mia Farrow). The review in Time Out described the character's trajectory: "Marion gets to thinking, and is appalled to realise that so many assumptions about her own life and marriage are largely unfounded: in her desire for a controlled existence, she has evaded the emotional truth about relationships with her best friend (Sandy Dennis), brother (Harris Yulin) and husband (Ian Holm)." Time Out praised the "marvellous" performances in the film, adding, "Rowlands' perfectly pitched approach to a demanding role is particularly stunning." [14] Film4 called her performance "sublime", [15] while Roger Ebert noted that it marked a considerable change in tone from her work with Cassavetes, thus showing "how good an actress Rowlands has been all along." [16]

In 2002, Rowlands appeared in Mira Nair's HBO movie Hysterical Blindness , for which she won her third Emmy. Next year she appeared as Mrs. Hellman an episode from the third season of Numb3rs . She played a Nazi survivor whose whole family was killed. The family owned a painting that the Nazis confiscated. Later on the painting reappeared. The new owner lent the painting to an art gallery in Los Angeles but while on display it was stolen. F.B.I. agent Don Eppes, played by Rob Morrow, tries to figure out what really happened. Rowlands received rave reviews for this role. She has been a spokesperson for people who were persecuted by the Nazis so this role was a perfect match for her.

She was later seen in The Notebook (2004), which was directed by her son Nick Cassavetes. The same year, she won her first Daytime Emmy for her role as Mrs. Evelyn Ritchie in The Incredible Mrs. Ritchie. In 2005, she appeared opposite Kate Hudson, Peter Sarsgaard, and John Hurt in the gothic thriller The Skeleton Key .

In 2007, she played a supporting role opposite Parker Posey and Melvil Poupaud in Broken English , an independent American feature written and directed by her daughter Zoe Cassavetes. In 2009, she appeared on an episode of Monk ("Mr. Monk and the Lady Next Door"). On March 2, 2010, she appeared on an episode of NCIS as lead character Leroy Jethro Gibbs's former mother-in-law, who is embroiled in a murder investigation. [17] In 2014, she starred in the film adaptation of Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks . [18]

Personal life

Rowlands was married to John Cassavetes from April 9, 1954, until his death on February 3, 1989. They met at the American Academy at Carnegie Hall where they were both students. They had three children, all actor-directors: Nick, Alexandra, and Zoe. Rowlands married retired businessman Robert Forrest in 2012.

Rowlands has stated that she was a fan of actress Bette Davis while growing up. She played Davis's daughter in the 1979 made-for-TV film, Strangers . [19]



1958 The High Cost of Loving Jenny Fry José Ferrer
1959 Shadows Woman in Nightclub John Cassavetes Uncredited
1962 Lonely Are the Brave Jerry Bondi David Miller
1962 The Spiral Road Els Robert Mulligan
1963 A Child Is Waiting Sophie Widdicombe John Cassavetes
1967 Tony Rome Rita Kosterman Gordon Douglas
1968 Faces Jeannie Rapp John Cassavetes
1969 Machine Gun McCain Rosemary Scott Giuliano Montaldo
1971 Minnie and Moskowitz Minnie Moore John Cassavetes
1974 A Woman Under the Influence Mabel Longhetti John Cassavetes
1976 Two-Minute Warning Janet Larry Peerce
1977 Opening Night Myrtle Gordon John Cassavetes
1978 The Brink's Job Mary Pino William Friedkin
1980 Gloria Gloria Swenson John Cassavetes
1982 Tempest Antonia Dimitrius Paul Mazursky
1984 Love Streams Sarah Lawson John Cassavetes
1984 I'm Almost Not Crazy:
John Cassavetes, the Man & His Work
Herself Michael Ventura Documentary Short
1987 Light of Day Jeanette Rasnick Paul Schrader
1988 Another Woman Marion Post Woody Allen
1990Hollywood MavericksHerselfFlorence Dauman
Dale Ann Stieber
1991 Once Around Marilyn Bella Lasse Hallström
1991 Night on Earth Victoria Snelling Jim Jarmusch
1991 Ted & Venus Mrs. Turner Bud Cort
1995 Something to Talk About Georgia King Lasse Hallström
1995 The Neon Bible Mae Morgan Terence Davies
1996 Unhook the Stars Mildred "Millie" Hawks Nick Cassavetes
1997 She's So Lovely Miss Jane Green Nick Cassavetes
1998 Paulie IvyJohn Roberts
1998 Hope Floats Ramona Calvert Forest Whitaker
1998 The Mighty Gram Peter Chelsom
1998 Playing by Heart Hannah Willard Carroll
1999The WeekendLaura PontiBrian Skeet
2000Light Keeps Me CompanyHerself – intervieweeCarl-Gustav NykvistDocumentary
2004 Taking Lives Mrs. Asher D. J. Caruso
2004 The Notebook Old Allie Calhoun Nick Cassavetes
2005 The Skeleton Key Violet Devereaux Iain Softley
2006 Paris, je t'aime Gena Gérard Depardieu Segment: Quartier Latin
2007 Broken English Vivien Wilder-Mann Zoe Cassavetes
2007 Persepolis Grandmother Marjane Satrapi
Vincent Paronnaud
Voice; English dubbed version
2011OliveTess M Powell
2012 Yellow Mimi Nick Cassavetes
2013 Parts Per Billion EstherBrian Horiuchi
2014 Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks Lily Harrison Arthur Allan Seidelman


1954 Top Secret PowellEpisode: This Man is Death
1955The Way of the WorldPaula Graves
1955 Robert Montgomery Presents Myrtle WilsonEpisode: The Great Gatsby
1955 Ponds Theater JanetEpisode: The Ways of Courage
1955 Armstrong Circle Theatre LugeneEpisode: Time for Love
1955 Studio One on Hollywood BettyEpisode: A Chance of Love
1955Appointment with AdventurePerformer2 episodes
1955 The United States Steel Hour LilyEpisode: Ashton Buys a Horse
1955 Goodyear Television Playhouse Betty/Eve2 episodes
1958 General Electric Theater Dorothy DickensonEpisode: The Girl with the Flaxen Hair
1959 Laramie Laurel DeWaltEpisode: The Run to Tumavaca
1959 Johnny Staccato Nina Van NessEpisode: Fly Baby, Fly
1959 Markham Rita EvansEpisode: The Altar
1959 Riverboat Rose TraynorEpisode: Guns for Empire
1960 Adventures in Paradise Dr. Abigail BrentEpisode: The Death-Divers
1960 Alfred Hitchcock Presents Lucille JonesEpisode: The Doubtful Doctor
1960 The Tab Hunter Show Barbara/PenelopeEpisode: Double Trouble
1961 The Islanders Pepper MintEpisode: Island Witness
1961 Target: The Corruptors! Marian PraisewaterEpisode: The Poppy Vendor
1961-62 87th Precinct Teddy Carella4 episodes
1963 The Dick Powell Theatre Mrs. CanfieldEpisode: Project X
1963 The Lloyd Bridges Show Leslie KaufmanEpisode: A Personal Matter
1963 77 Sunset Strip Barbara AdamsEpisode: Flight 307
1963 Bonanza Ragan MillerEpisode: She Walks in Beauty
1963 The Virginian SavannahEpisode: No Tears for Fears
1963 Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre JuneEpisode: It's Mental Work
1963 Breaking Point Shelley PetersEpisode: Heart of Marble, Body of Shame
1962-64 The Alfred Hitchcock Hour Performer3 episodes
1963-64 Kraft Suspense Theatre Performer2 episodes
1964 Dr. Kildare Helen ScottEpisode: To Walk in Grace
1964 Burke's Law Mitzie/Paulette2 episodes
1966 Run for Your Life Charlotte HydeEpisode: The Rediscovery of Charlotte Hyde
1966 The Long, Hot Summer Karen RobertsEpisode: From This Day Forward
1967The Road WestKaren CollierEpisode: Beyond the Hill
1967 The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. Baroness IngridEpisode: The Fountain of Youth Affair
1967 Peyton Place Adrienne Van Leyden39 episodes
1968 Garrison's Gorillas DuchessEpisode: The Frame-Up
1971-73 Medical Center Karen/Frances2 episodes
1972 Circle of Fear Kate LucasEpisode: The Concrete Captain
1974 Marcus Welby, M.D. Lorrain DenbyEpisode: The 266 Days
1975 Columbo Elizabeth Van WyckEpisode: Playback
1978 A Question of Love Linda Ray GuettnerTelevision Movie
1979 Strangers:
The Story of a Mother and Daughter
Abigail MasonTelevision Movie
1983 Thursday's Child Victoria AldenTelevision Movie
1983 Faerie Tale Theatre WitchEpisode: Rapunzel
1985 An Early Frost Katherine PiersonTelevision Movie
1987 The Betty Ford Story Betty FordTelevision Movie
1990 Montana Bess GuthrieTelevision Movie
1991Face of a StrangerPat FosterTelevision Movie
1992 Crazy in Love Honora SwiftTelevision Movie
1993Anything for JohnHerselfTelevision Documentary
1994 Parallel Lives Francie PomerantzTelevision Movie
1998Grace & GlorieGrace StilesTelevision Movie
1998Best Friends for LifeMrs. Harriet CahillTelevision Movie
2000The Color of Love: Jacey's StoryGeorgia PorterTelevision Movie
2001 Wild Iris Minnie BrinnTelevision Movie
2002Charms for the Easy LifeMs. Charlie KateTelevision Movie
2003 Broadway: The Golden Age HerselfDocumentary series
2003 Hysterical Blindness Virginia MillerTelevision Movie
2004The Incredible Mrs. RitchieEvelyn RitchieTelevision Movie
2006 Numb3rs Mrs. HellmanEpisode: Provenance
2007 What If God Were the Sun? Melissa EisenbloomTelevision Movie
2009 Monk Marge JohnsonEpisode: Mr. Monk & the Lady Next Door
2010 NCIS Joann FieldingEpisode: Mother's Day

Awards and Nominations

Rowlands has been nominated for two Academy Awards, eight Primetime Emmy Awards, one Daytime Emmy Award, eight Golden Globe Awards, three Satellite Awards, and two SAG Awards. Some of her notable wins are a Silver Bear for Best Actress, three Primetime Emmy Awards and one Daytime Emmy Award, two Golden Globe Awards, two National Board of Review Awards, and two Satellite Awards.

In January 2015, Rowlands was presented with a lifetime achievement award by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. [20] She was also chosen by the Academy Awards board of governors to receive an Honorary Academy Award that same year. At the Governors Awards ceremony, she was honored by Laura Linney and Cate Blanchett who offered up tributes; and Rowland's son Nick Cassavettes presented the award to her. The press release described Rowland as "an original talent" whose "devotion to her craft has earned her worldwide recognition as an independent film icon". [21]

Academy Awards

YearCategoryNominated workResult
1974 Best Actress A Woman Under the Influence Nominated
1980 Gloria Nominated
2015 Honorary Academy Award N/AWon

Primetime Emmy Award

YearCategoryNominated workResult
1986 Outstanding Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie An Early Frost Nominated
1987 The Betty Ford Story Won
1992 Face of a StrangerWon
2000 The Color of Love: Jacey's Story Nominated
2002 Wild Iris Nominated
2003 Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie Hysterical Blindness Won
2007 Outstanding Actress in a Miniseries or Movie What If God Were the Sun? Nominated
2009 Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series Monk Nominated

Golden Globe Awards

YearCategoryNominated workResult
1974 Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama A Woman Under the Influence Won
1977 Opening Night Nominated
1980 Gloria Nominated
1983 Best Actress – Miniseries or Television Film Thursday's Child Nominated
1985 An Early Frost Nominated
1987 The Betty Ford Story Won
1992 Best Supporting Actress - Television Crazy in Love Nominated
2002 Hysterical Blindness Nominated

Other Awards

YearAwardCategoryNominated workResult
1971 New York Film Critics Circle Best Actress Minnie and Moskowitz Nominated
1974 National Board of Review Best Actress A Woman Under the Influence Won
1974 New York Film Critics Circle Best Actress Nominated
1974Kansas City Film Critics CircleBest ActressWon
1974 San Sebastián International Film Festival Best ActressWon
1977 Berlin International Film Festival Silver Bear for Best Actress Opening Night Won
1980 Boston Society of Film Critics Best Actress Gloria Won
1994 Sundance Film Festival Tribute to Independent Vision AwardN/AWon
1996 National Board of Review Career Achievement AwardN/AWon
1996 Screen Actors Guild Award Outstanding Actress - Film Unhook the Stars Nominated
1999 Seattle International Film Festival Excellence for Ensemble CastThe WeekendWon
2000 Satellite Award Best Actress – Mini-Series or Television Film The Color of Love: Jacey's Story Nominated
2004 Daytime Emmy Award Outstanding Performer in a Children's Special The Incredible Mrs. Ritchie Won
2004 Satellite Award Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture The Notebook Nominated
2005 Saturn Award Best Supporting Actress The SkeletonNominated
2008 Screen Actors Guild Award Actress in a Miniseries or TV Movie What If God Were the Sun Nominated
2014 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Career Achievement AwardN/AWon

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Further reading